I’m writing a screenplay in which an administrator reads excerpts from a statistical report. I’m not quite sure how to write the numbers which he uses in dialogue. Should I use numerals? Words? Doesn’t matter?
— Marcus J
For dialogue, a screenwriter should use as few numbers as possible, and write them out unless it’s cumbersome to do so.
- “We’ve got nineteen calls on hold.”
- “That joke’s got to be a hundred years old.”
- “Alaska may be the forty-ninth state, but it’s first in awesome.”
- “We have an unidentified craft, bearing thirty-one mark nine.”
- “This suit cost me five thousand. You stole yours from a hobo, I’m guessing.”
Use numbers for things like dates, codes and phone numbers:
- “According to this, he was born March 10th, 1970. That means he’s already forty.”
- “The combination is 21…34…17.”
- “Just call this number: 555-764-2002.”
In action lines, I generally spell out numbers less than ten. But I’ll happily break that rule if it looks better on the page. I never start a line with a numeral, and will favor unspecific counts when possible: a thousand stars rather than 1,000 stars.